GOP lawmakers urge Delaware governor to lift restrictions

April 30, 2020 GMT

DOVER, Del. (AP) — Republican lawmakers in Delaware are urging Democratic Gov. John Carney to lift restrictions that are aimed at stemming the spread of the coronavirus but have also crippled the state’s economy and led to unprecedented numbers of unemployment filings.

Members of the House GOP caucus said in a letter Thursday that after seven weeks of restrictions on businesses and individuals, they can no longer remain silent.

“Ironically, the shutdown done to protect our citizens has had a substantial negative impact on public health,” the lawmakers wrote. “The heightened anxiety created by the loss of jobs and incomes will inevitably lead to spikes in stress-related problems, such as heart attacks, substance abuse, suicides, and depression.”

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“More government aid is not the answer,” the letter adds. “Enhanced unemployment benefits, and new government loans and grants, while buying some time, cannot take the place of a functioning economy.”

A Carney spokesman said in an email that the governor “will continue to be guided by science.”

“No one wants to reopen our economy more than he does,” wrote Carney spokesman Jon Starkey, adding that the virus still represents “a very serious situation,” particularly in southern Delaware.

“We need all legislators to stay engaged in this fight against COVID-19,” Starkey wrote.

GOP lawmakers said the state can continue to take action to stem the spread of the virus, and protect those most at risk from severe consequences of infection, while allowing citizens and businesses to return to work in a responsible manner.

“Delawareans are desperate for action,” they wrote.

The letter to Carney was sent on the same day that the Delaware Department of Labor said more than 7,750 initial unemployment claims were filed last week. More than 78,000 Delawareans have filed for unemployment benefits since March 15, including more than 30,000 in March. The previous monthly record for unemployment claim filings in Delaware over the past three decades was a little more than 9,600 in January 2002.

The huge spike in unemployment claims comes after hundreds of Delaware businesses including restaurants, bars, retail shops, theaters and fitness centers, were forced to close or severely restrict operations under an emergency declaration by Carney.

Carney has said businesses will remain closed until the state sees two weeks of declining COVID-19 cases and has adequate resources in place to test for the disease and track those who may have been exposed to it.

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GOP lawmakers said Carney’s plan lacks “any sense of urgency or predictability.”

They also questioned why Carney has made a two-week decline in COVID-19 cases a prerequisite for reopening the economy, given that state officials have prioritized increased testing, especially in areas experiencing a high rate of infection. The two-week standard follows federal guidelines.

Carney has acknowledged that more testing will result in more positive cases, but he also has indicated that officials will look not just at the numbers of positive cases, but the percentage of tests that are positive.

Republicans noted that tracking information already makes clear that the virus poses the greatest danger to well-defined subgroups of the population. Of the total deaths among Delawareans so far, all but eight had underlying health issues, more than 60% lived in long-term care facilities, and more than 90% were senior citizens, they noted.

State officials on Thursday reported more than 4,730 cases of COVID-19 in Delaware, and eight additional deaths, bringing the total to 152 as of Wednesday evening. The number of hospitalizations dropped by almost 10% from the previous day to just under 300.

Most infected people have mild or moderate symptoms that clear up in two or three weeks, such as fever and cough. But for some, especially older adults and people with existing health problems, it can cause more severe illness, or death.